Monday, September 27, 2010

Clicking In A Technicolor Dreamcoat

Double Rainbow
The first Diablo has a very local setting. The game starts and ends in the town of Tristram, and the sixteen-level dungeon lies entirely within and beneath the cathedral on one side of town. The colors are dark and dreary. The music in the dungeon is unsettling and contributes to the oppressive atmosphere. Screams and moans echo through the halls, pathways are often twisting and narrow, and the low resolution means ranged attacks frequently come from off-screen unseen demonic beasts. No matter what, you always feel like you are going further down into the beating heart of terror. The jangly acoustic musical theme in Tristram is an audio relief every time you return from the dungeon. 

The bits of color found in the game come from the impressive magic spells, and certain areas contain bright rivers of water, acid, or lava. It is certainly not a game devoid of color, and the use of light is judiciously used to enhance the overall atmosphere.

The world of Diablo 2, in contrast, practically bleeds with color. While rainy, the first Act of the game is a lush green field. Act 2 takes place in a bright yellow desert. Act 3 takes place in a darker, more frightening jungle environment, but it's not until the fourth act, in Hell itself, that Diablo 2 returns to the claustrophobic feeling of its predecessor. Obviously, the size of the world you explore in Diablo 2 is far larger; the return to Tristram is merely a quick stop along the way in a much bigger adventure.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Clicking Repeatedly

Going In Circles
One of the selling points when Diablo was released was how "replayable" it was. The game randomly generated the 16-level dungeon every time a new game was started, and certain quests and enemies would only be seen on second or third playthroughs. What caught me off guard was how the game essentially forced me to replay the game in order to progress to the end.

The dungeon in Diablo is divided into four areas of four floors each. After getting through the first four cathedral floors with my melee warrior, I was immediately overwhelmed in the new catacombs area. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong, but after consulting the manual I realized that the game expects you to take an existing character through the game several times in order to level up and acquire the appropriate gear to take you to the end. After replaying the first four floors, I had to restart again on hitting the caves at the ninth floor. Once I made it to hell, I had to restart a third time. It was only on that fourth playthrough that I made it to the end and killed Diablo himself. This of course lets you see new enemy types and try some different quests, but it never really sat well with me. It was too videogame-y for my tastes and felt like a lazy way to pad the game's length. There's no narrative reason given for the ability restart at will, and it's a case where the gameplay completely steamrolls the plot. While I was playing Deathspank, the recent action RPG from Ron Gilbert and Hothead Games, I laughed when a character implies that the magical underwear the titular character is wearing is the reason he is able to resurrect at the nearest outhouse upon death. It doesn't matter that the reason is ridiculous; it just matters that a reason is given at all.

Despite my complaints above, I didn't really mind too much while playing. I was addicted to buying new gear for my character by this point. Each time I restarted the blacksmith seemed to have particularly good gear for me to buy at that initial start. There's also the undeniable satisfaction of easily slaughtering monsters that previously gave me trouble. The biggest problem was that after a while, lower level monsters no longer gave me any experience points. Experience is given out on a sliding scale depending on the player's level and the monster's level. On my third playthrough, I didn't earn any experience until the seventh floor or so. On my fourth playthrough, it took until the tenth floor to start earning experience. There was no point in killing earlier monsters, so I found myself running through each floor looking for the next staircase down until I got to a point where I thought it might be worthwhile to start killing things again. This was tedious.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


A bit late to the party, but I recently completed both Diablo and Diablo 2. I believe Diablo was the game that had been on my backlog the longest, so it was nice to finally get through it and its sequel. I thought I'd compare and contrast the two games and go into what I thought about the design decisions made in each. I'll take a few posts to discuss different aspects that stood out to me.

I had tried Diablo three or four times in the past, and never got far. I was always hoping for/expecting an RPG with a fairly deep story, and killing monsters in dark halls for hours never kept me engaged for very long. It wasn't until Torchlight came out last year that I began to understand the "right" way to play these games. The emphasis is on improving your playable character through improved stats, weapons, and armor so that progress can be made through increasingly difficult areas. When I realized that character progression was the point of these games instead of particularly deep stories, I had more fun playing. In the first Diablo especially, the plot of the game is extremely simple and only really hinted at in books and some quest text. What threw me off was the manual's pages and pages of backstory and lore. I assumed the game itself would spend as much time on those aspects of the universe as the manual did. I was wrong. Torchlight adjusted my expectations for Diablo, and it made all the difference in my enjoyment of the game.

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